Jennifer Sabih: We've all experienced that sickening feeling when you get back to your car and there’s an envelope wedged into the windshield wiper of your car. Then the shock when you open it to see it's $63 dollars for an expired meter violation in Los Angeles. And then the resignation because you figure you can’t fight city hall. Well we're about to meet two guys who say, 'Oh yes you can!'
Jennifer Sabih: This is Jay Beeber and Steve Vincent. To the public they’re heroes, to the politicians, a thorn in their sides. Jay though, has already fought city hall and won.
Jay Beeber: I'm primarily the person who got rid of the red light cameras in Los Angeles. And after I did that most people came up to me and said that was great, you know what you should do next? You should take on parking because that's a real problem for a lot of people.
Jennifer Sabih: What is the problem, Steve Vincent?
Steve Vincent: It's treated as a revenue stream for the general fund and not as a service of the city. It's simply to raise money to cover the budget deficit, it has nothing to do with parking enforcement or scofflaws or any of that.
Jennifer Sabih: With the help of social media, Beeber and Vincent have revved up L.A. drivers--put pedal to the medal-- and vow they won't hit the brakes until there's major reform of the City's parking ticket system. What do they want? First lower the parking fines.
Jay Beeber: The fines are ridiculously high.
Steve Vincent: $62 or $73 or $90 something for a ticket -- for many people that's more than what they earn in an entire day.
Jennifer Sabih: Myra Jones couldn't agree more.
Myra Jones: The meters are ridiculous. They don’t give you no time, they just walk around and sit here and wait. L.A. is just greedy.
Jennifer Sabih: Other proposals include discounts if you pay within 48 hours and a tiered system where the first violation would be just $23, the median hourly wage for L.A. workers.
Jay Beeber: And then if you get another one in the same year maybe it goes up to 40 some odd dollars. And then if you get another it would go higher to some maximum level.
Jennifer Sabih: We all know what it's like to get, but what is it like to givea parking ticket. For that side of the story, we took a ride with a Los Angles parking enforcement officer.
Officer Enrique DeLaCruz: I don’t get upset when they start calling me names because I know they are upset I just gave them a ticket.
Jenifer Sabih: Officer Enrique DeLaCruz has been patrolling the streets of L.A. for eight years. And it doesn't take more than riding a few blocks in his back seat to know he's one of the good guys. Still, he's aware most people don't see him that way.
Enrique DeLaCruz: Usually they're not too happy to see you. You have to have a thick skin to do this job.
Jennifer Sabih: What is the average amount of tickets you give out in a day?
Enrique DeLaCruz: I would say between 15 to 20.
Jennifer Sabih: L.A. city officers wrote a staggering 2.5 million tickets last year-- adding up to nearly $160 million. The majority of that going into the city's general fund to pay for municipal services, including police and fire. But the parking reformers say that's not fair. They want to spend the money instead on sidewalk repairs, updated meters, and better yet, adding more parking places.
Steve Vincent: It cannot continue to be the way that basic city services are funded.
Jennifer Sabih: Surprisingly, some councilmembers agreed.
Councilmember Mike Bonin: I think in the last few years during the budget crisis the city took the approach there's gold in the gutter and let’s use parking revenue to fill the city’s coffers. But I think we've probably gone a little bit too far in that direction.
Jennifer Sabih: The council member who chairs Budget and Finance admits separating parking revenue from the general budget will force the city to make up the lost millions in other ways-- taxes or cuts in services. Still Paul Krekorian told me, the city should, and could do it.
Paul Krekorian: Parking ticket revenue taken as a whole is not such a large part of the budget that it would be devastating.
Jennifer Sabih: Another goal of the reformers: Make it easier to fight tickets. Now you first have to call the number on the ticket envelope or go to their website. But it may surprise you to know the person you deal with is a subcontractor of the Xerox Corporation. Los Angeles uses Xerox to outsource much of its parking ticket processing.
Steve Vincent: Xerox is providing the hand held devices that the parking enforcement officers use and the software technology that goes on those devices and they are involved in the adjudication process as well.
Jay Beeber: The way it works is that Xerox gets a small fee every time they process a ticket. Then they also get a fee if you don’t pay your ticket. It's to the advantage of Xerox if somebody gets a ticket, that's the bottom line.
Steve Vincent: It didn't feel right, didn't smell right...and we wondered if there was something wrong. Well, the judge recently ruled that the city had been allowing Xerox to do those first initial reviews and that's against state law.
Jennifer Sabih: The judge wrote in a tentative ruling in July that the city, as issuing agency, must conduct the initial review, and may not delegate that task to Xerox.
Until the case is settled it's business as usual. And fighting a parking ticket in L.A. is a soul-numbing, time-consuming hassle. Just ask taxi driver Linden Killam who got a ticket parking his cab a residential street. But when he looked at his ticket, he noticed something was missing. So a few days later, he went to the website to see what he owed.
Linden Killam: And online it said the balance for this ticket was 0 dollars and 0 cents so I ignored it, I figured it was a warning.
Jennifer Sabih: Two months later he got a bill for $181. So he asked for a review. A Xerox subcontractor denied that request, saying he was too late. So he asked the city for a hearing. The city said no.
Linden Killam: So my only option now is to go to Superior court, which I have. My case will be heard December 8.
Bonin: How to pay a parking ticket, whether to pay a parking ticket, or contest a parking ticket shouldn't be herculean battle with red tape.
Steve Vincent: The current system that we have now will not exist a year from now. It will be completely different.
Jennifer Sabih: What makes them so sure? Well about a year ago, the duo started a ballot measure to bring parking reform to the people. But they put their campaign on pause when Mayor Garcetti invited them to be a part of the Parking Reform Working Group.
Jay Beeber: If the city doesn't adopt a significant amount of change, then we're just gonna go to the ballot, so one way or another there's going to be change. It’s a foregone solution...absolutely going to happen. No question about it.
Myra Jones: They don't believe in sweet talking around here..even if you're cute and put on lipstick.
Jennifer Sabih: But when it comes to persuading parking officials...neither it seems can find the technique to move them.
Myra Jones: I've tried it all. I even got a boob job and it didn't work.
Jennifer Sabih: I'm Jennifer Sabih for “SoCal Connected.”
Have you ever parked your car in Los Angeles only to return to a hefty fine placed on your windshield?
You might have unwillingly parked a vehicle in a restricted zone, or failed to notice a street sweeping sign.
But what really goes on behind the scenes? Who's responsible for issuing tickets, and what can people do to contest the fines?
Jennifer Sabih speaks to city officials, parking enforcement, and parking reform organizations to find out whether the city needs to reform and address its parking policies.